Legal Aid for Criminal Defence

Suspects under arrest at a police station are automatically entitled to free legal advice from a criminal defence lawyer.

Legal Aid – also known as public funding – is, however, means tested and this means that some defendants may not be eligible for Legal Aid if a case goes to a Magistrates’ Court or Crown Court.

Defendants with an income of £12,475 or less will always be granted Legal Aid in criminal cases. However, defendants with higher incomes will have to apply for Legal Aid.

There are several factors taken into account by the Legal Aid Agency when assessing whether a defendant is eligible for public funding for their case.

Legal Aid: Means Testing

The Legal Aid Agency takes into account a defendant’s income, living expenses (including rent) and whether or not they are supporting children before deciding on whether to award public funding for a case.

If a defendant is turned down for Legal Aid, it is possible to ask for a review of any additional outgoings they have to pay if these have not been taken into account in the original application for Legal Aid.

Legal Aid: Interests of Justice (IoJ)


The Legal Aid Agency will also take into account the merits of a case when considering awarding Legal Aid to a defendant. This might involve consideration of the nature of an offence and whether a custodial sentence might be likely, as well as whether a defendant has previous convictions.

It is possible to appeal against a decision not to award Legal Aid on the basis of the IoJ test.

Legal Aid: Passporting

There are some circumstances, however, when a defendant will automatically be awarded Legal Aid to pay for their defence costs regardless of the means test and if they have passed the IoJ Test – known as passporting.

Legal Aid will automatically be granted if a defendant is a minor (under 18) and is in receipt of certain welfare benefits:

  • Income Support (IS)
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Universal Credit (UC)
  • State Pension Guarantee Credit
  • Income-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Woods Solicitors is one of the UK’s largest providers of Legal Aid services and will advise clients on their eligibility for Legal Aid to defend criminal charges once a case has been assessed.

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